Meet Mahreen Rashid: Executive Vice President of People Services. Mahreen is deeply passionate about Inclusion, Diversity & Equity (ID&E) and the employee experience, and has spent her career actively empowering others in the workplace and tech community. She serves on the Board of Directors for Homestretch, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping homeless families in Virginia become self-sufficient, and will soon be taking on the role of Vice President. She also recently joined Arlington’s Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the ACT-IAC Diversity and Equity in Leadership advisory team.
We sat down with Mahreen to explore how organizations can build diversity and inclusion into the talent pipeline and listened to insights from her experience as a woman of color in leadership.
As an executive and leader in your industry, what do you think organizations should know about diversity in leadership?
Most organizations know that diversity in leadership is good. It’s commonly understood that there are benefits of building a diverse organization. But specifically, the value of having diversity in leadership cannot be underestimated. Leaders have the responsibility for cultural stewardship and leaders often are seen as the face of the organization – where current and future employees want to feel connected. Organizations who are able to demonstrate not just a commitment to diversity in employment, but in the culture and environment in which their employees work, are able to build and sustain the benefits of diversity. Therefore, we need to always work towards creating diversity across different levels, actively invest in growing diverse talent, and building diverse talent pipelines, and future leaders.
How can organizations start building diverse talent pipelines?
Good question! There are multiple avenues that organizations can focus on to develop a diverse talent pipeline. Organizations can’t expect to only use a few avenues and see success. There is talent out there and it is our responsibility to make it easier for them to find and connect with us. Recruiting should be continually evaluating if their sources are producing candidates, and if they aren’t, then new sources need to be found. This spans working with organizations focused on professionals who come from underrepresented communities to working with schools like HBCUs, coding bootcamps, attending meetups and conferences, etc.
Another big component of building diverse talent pipelines is creating a truly inclusive environment. Some of the best recruiters within an organization are the employees themselves. Creating an environment where people can be their authentic selves is critical for organizations who want to attract and retain diverse talent. If an employee genuinely experiences this, they will share this experience within their network and champion your organization – supporting existing recruitment strategies. Without an inclusive environment, recruiters will need to work twice as hard to reach diverse candidates and convince them that your organization is where they should work.
What other ways can organizations focus on building diverse pipelines?
Organizations can also build diverse pipelines early on by investing in education and supporting programs that increase opportunities. Members of underrepresented communities often count themselves out of industries they don’t see themselves represented in. By reaching talent before they enter the workforce, we can cultivate their interest and increase access to opportunities. Examples of how Excella has invested in increasing opportunities include sponsoring scholarship programs at the Flatiron school geared towards candidates from unrepresented communities, partnering with Howard University as a sponsor for their annual Hackathon, Bison Hacks, sponsoring the Vertically Integrated Project (VIP), and sponsoring a learning series event talking about AI Ethics with students. We also sponsor interns from On-Ramps to Careers, an organization that helps make technology career paths more attainable for underserved students in the National Capital region.
Take us back to the beginning of your career. How did you get started in HR?
I started my career in a tough job market as a temp in Marriott International’s event management department. After a departure in the hotel’s HR department created an opening, my director encouraged me to apply. I took the opportunity, applied, and was hired.
I was surprised by how much I loved the job. Working in HR for a global hotel chain made me realize how important the people aspect is within an organization. Employees have a range of needs and varying experiences depending on their personal situations and their roles. It was truly a rewarding experience being so closely involved with people, and I’ve continued to seek out opportunities where I can support people ever since.
Why did you join Excella?
HR can be a competitive industry. It can be hard to find a job where you can truly do strategic work and create real value for your employees. Having started my career in such a people-first environment, creating value was always something that I was concerned about, and that drew me to Excella.
When I joined Excella in 2014, there weren’t a lot of formal employee programs in place, but we were growing and looking to evolve in the People space. There were a lot of opportunities to build new and innovative programs, and the continuous opportunity to grow and innovate is what keeps me here through my leadership journey.
What is one important lesson you have learned as a leader?
Using your authentic voice is key, and I’m reminded of it in many ways. One pivotal moment for me was during a keynote session at a diversity, equity, and inclusion conference I attended several years ago. During the keynote, we were asked to participate in a simple exercise where we had to think of a letter, number, animal, etc. Almost everyone came up with the same answer, including myself. Except, before I decided on the “right answer,” I had thought of something else, but dismissed my idea because I knew other people’s answers would be different. In that moment, I had to ask myself why I shut down my original idea and silenced my voice.
Your thoughts and ideas are important, even if they differ from everyone else’s. Staying true to your own voice is not only good for you, but it’s good for your organization as well. Leadership at Excella has really appreciated and valued my ideas, and that was very encouraging for me as I’ve grown as a leader. Seek out environments that empower you to use your authentic voice and be yourself.